Studying the life of the Roman general Marcus Regulus, one is bound to encounter the gruesome ordeals the character from antiquity had to endure. Contemporary sources, ranging from Cicero to Livius, describe torture—sleep deprivation, sewing open his eyelids or removing them. But Regulus was not an arbitrary victim; he was the commander of the Roman army in the First Punic War and, thus, a logical prisoner of the Carthaginians.
The legend of Regulus, and especially his death, has inspired numerous artists, most notably William Turner's 1828 painting Regulus. Turner decided against depicting a classical torture scene and instead painted the harbour of Carthage flooded with the glistening light of a setting sun. The bright light engulfs the pictorial space whereby the viewer suffers with Regulus, who, stripped of his eyelids—as the most common version of the story states—faces the glaring light that slowly blinds him.
Only at a second glance does Philippe Decrauzat's series of strictly geometric paintings reveal its reference to antiquity and Romanticism. In previous series, Decrauzat had already begun to explore themes that do not instantly appear related to Op Art or Minimalism. His work has, for example, referenced rock music, jazz, feature films, and Surrealism.
For the exhibition Dedans et Dehors, the artist created four new paintings, each drawing on the pre-Christian era. Two of the three large circular canvases in the main room are black and white, while the third is painted entirely white. Decrauzat's composition alludes to the legendary Punic harbour in Carthage, but the artist modified the harbour's characteristic round shape with only one opening and created variations thereof in the three presented canvases. The total contrast between the extremes of black and white links these works to the martyrdom of Regulus—first, he perceives extreme brightness before losing all sense of sight and is consequently left to perceive endless darkness.
Decrauzat, who has been continuously interested in perceptual-psychological phenomena, translates the effect of Turner's painting into a distinct language of form and representation, blending elements of the Regulus saga with Turner's Pre-Impressionist art and abstracting them to the minimum. The round shape—an abstraction of the eye—and the strict symmetry of the tondi fix the viewer's gaze on the respective painting centres. Both Regulus' gaze and the viewer's merge to become one. The eye intuitively follows the lines that run either concentrically or continuously across the entire canvas—a labyrinth without a beginning or an end.
The labyrinthine depiction continues in the exhibition's only rectangular work at the entrance. This composition is evocative of classical Roman or Cretan labyrinths, as encountered in the legend of the Minotaur, for example. But Decrauzat does not simply copy this well-known antique depiction; instead, he abstracts the motif to its essence. The uninterrupted black canvas contrasts the white wall, creating a sense of inside and outside—Dedans et Dehors. This title stems from a drawing in the French magazine Acéphale founded by Pierre Klossowski, André Masson, and Georges Bataille. In addition to showing a figure without a head (Greek aképhalos, “headless”), the first issue's cover also featured the motif of a labyrinth. Acéphale saw itself as a secret occult society, carrying out mythical, orgiastic rites. Decrauzat's paintings are also, beyond their historical references, symbols charged with meaning by each viewer. His works are more than formal results; they are operations in which abstraction becomes a system — Decrauzat takes the language of Minimalism or Op Art a step further without limiting himself to purely formalistic strategies.
– Guillaume Tourneur
Translation: Katerine Niedinger
Philippe Decrauzat was born 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In a variety of different media—painting, wall painting, installation, sculpture and film—Decrauzat explores complex geometries and kinetic optics. Building on the formal language of constructivism, Op art and minimalism, his works push perception beyond of the image to effect a spacial presence.
In 2022 he was nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp.
Decrauzat's works have been shown in solo exhibitions at Portique, Le Havre (2021), Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam (2018), Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM), Luxemburg (2017), Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Grenoble (2014), Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn (2008), Swiss Institute, New York (2006), Musée d'art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2005) und im Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne (2000).
Furthermore, the artist has taken part in numerous group shows, including exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou, France (2022), Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland (2021), Centre Pompidou, Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence (2019), Marta Herford Museum, Herford (2018), Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxemburg (2017), MARCO Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Monterrey (2016), MACRO Museo d'arte contemporanea Roma, Rom (2014), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2011), Musée des beaux-arts, Strasbourg (2005) and at Swiss Institute, New York (2004).